Drugs for the circuit-based human

Image from Wikipedia. Click for source.In a recent article for The Observer I noted that almost all the major drug companies had closed down their neuroscience divisions as evidence for a move away from a ‘chemical-based’ to a ‘circuit-based’ approach to treatments.

So to my surprise, a new Nature News article has just appeared discussing the re-launch of pharmaceutical giant Novartis’s neuroscience section.

However, as I read the beginning of the article, it seems they are just banking on the fact that they can design drugs good enough to hit individual brain circuits.

In a sign that psychiatric-disease research is entering a new era, the pharmaceutical giant Novartis has hired an expert in neural circuitry, rather than pharmacology, to head its relaunched neuroscience division.

The appointment of 42-year-old Ricardo Dolmetsch, who has spent his entire career in academic research, signifies a radical policy shift for the company, as it moves away from conventional neurotransmitter research to concentrate on analysing the neural circuitry that causes brain diseases.

Well. Best of luck with that.

I may be wrong, but I suspect dousing the brain in a chemical which is supposed to affect only selected circuits may be folly.

Then again, maybe we need to think outside the pill box. Perhaps microinjections of drugs directly into the brain is the future.

Either way, it seems the big money is being increasingly invested in the idea that useful treatments will be tweaking brain circuits.

Link to ‘Novartis reboots brain division’ from Nature News.

A tour through isolation

Photo from Wikipedia. Click for source.The BBC World Service just broadcast an amazing radio documentary on the experience of isolation – talking to people who have experienced intense remoteness from other humans including polar base residents, astronauts, prisoners and people who completed the Mars-500 simulated mission.

Firstly, it’s just beautiful. If there’s such a thing as an ambient documentary, this comes sublimely close to achieving it at times.

But the programme is also a fascinating look at the subjective psychology of separation.

A doctor explains how it feels to see the last plane leaving an Antarctic research base for nine months of separation from the rest of the world.

A British drug smuggler explains what it was like to be sent to an Argentine prison when he spoke no Spanish – unable to communicate with anyone.

Astronaut Al Worden has been the most isolated human in history, during his time on a Apollo mission, and explains the experience of ultimate remoteness.

The programme reminded me of another form of modern isolation the 21st century hermits who hide themselves away due to fear of the effects of modern technology – like the mythical ‘health damaging effects of WiFi’.

An article in the Journal of the Royal Society of Medicine made the comparison between these modern day hermits with their ancient brethren.

The World Service documentary is wonderful, however. As is normal with the internet-impaired BBC Radio pages, you have to get the podcast from a completely different page but you’re probably better off downloading the mp3 directly.

Link to BBC World Service documentary Isolation.
mp3 of the same.